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Max Hastings

Discussion in 'WWII Books & Publications' started by LRusso216, Oct 12, 2013.

  1. larso

    larso Member

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    "Oh I agree the Aussie were side lined to mopping up thanks to Dougout Doug but I disagree with Hastings assesment of the apperant low marol amongst the Diggers and mutinous behaviour."

    I would've said the same thing, except I recently read a new account of the Australian campaign on Bouganville. Towards the end some soldiers refused to go on patrol. One battalion affected was the 9th. There was widespread sentiment against what they were doing but most followed orders.
     
  2. Admiral Foo Bang

    Admiral Foo Bang New Member

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    Hi new here......Coincidentally not last week I've just finished reading my first Max Hastings book his Bomber Command. I purchased it online thinking it was an excellent detailed book I read a while back then lent to someone never got back and now wish to read again, it wasn't and I still can't find the darn book anyhoo I digress......Credit is due for him taking a different approach and choosing some of the lesser written about squadrons and raids (it was first published in1979) I liked how instead of writing about Dresden apart from in passing he chose Darmstadt a raid with a similar outcome that gets the same points across (from this and other parts of the book I truly learned things). But whilst far from being knowledgeable on the whole history of Bomber Command I tend to be one for the facts and I like to look into things that I read about farther and I wasn't far through it before I noticed a pattern of whole paragraphs and sometimes pages of statements given as fact but compared to other historical books I've read there I found it a bit light on reference points.

    It told me a story but I wouldn't use it to settle an argument.
     
  3. A-58

    A-58 Cool Dude

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    So Lou, what do you think of Hastings now?
     
  4. Brutal Truth

    Brutal Truth Active Member

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    I have some problems with Max Hastings. To be honest I have some problems with journalists-turned-historians. Not that they cannot write good history books, at least in the "popular history" category. They often have a more pleasant, easier-to-read style that can make them a good introduction for readers who start learning on a subject. My first general work on WWII when I was still a kid was The Second World War by Raymond Cartier, a journalist, and it was a well written, balanced book IMO. I also liked William Shirer's The Collapse of the Third Republic.

    The problem is when such historians make rather "extreme" assertions without performing the rigorous analysis that such an endeavor requires. Some people have claimed that Hastings is pro-German. I don't believe that. Rather, he is very critical of the Allied military - and of the quality of their fighting men. His criticism doesn't apply only to the European Theater, but also to the Pacific War and to the US Army in Korea. His attitude comes from a reaction to the triumphalist, chauvinistic attitude that transpires in many post-war Anglo-American accounts of the war. That in itself is not a bad thing. The problem is that his iconoclasticism becomes an "axe to grind" that he tries to push forward at all costs using (and I suspect cherry-picking) anecdotes rather than through a rigorous analysis of the kind made by authors like Dupuy or Zetterling. An example that sticks to my mind is from Overlord when he compares the impressive physical looks of the Waffen-SS to that of the British soldiers, quoting a British officer complaining about the sloppy appearance of his men. This is absurd. The Waffen-SS in Normandy were elite formations, and in June 1944 many of their men were still the product of high physical selection standards. It's as pointless as comparing professional Royal Marines with British conscripts (Ironically, Guy Sajer in The Forgotten Soldier mentions the smart looks of the British soldiers compared to the ragged appearance of the survivors in his unit). Personally I would agree that on average both Waffen-SS and regular Army German soldiers (obviously excluding the Ostbattalions) in Normandy were tactically more proficient than Allied soldiers (excluding the airborne troops), for a number of reasons including the obvious difference in battle experience. But Hastings doesn't qualify his claims except with anecdotes and repeating the mantra that "German soldiers inflicted constantly 50% more casualties whether in attack or defense". This comes apparently from Dupuy work but it doesn't look like Hastings has analyzed it in any dept. To prove the "incompetence" of the American soldiers he even mentions their practice to spread suspect hiding places with bullets. I never heard that recon-by-fire is synonym of incompetence, in fact it seems to me a smart tactic if you have plenty of ammo - which was often the case for GIs in Normandy.

    I didn't read - to be honest I couldn't stomach - Armageddon except for the intro (at the library) and reviews, but it's clear that in that book he advances the thesis that "the sons of dictatorship make better soldiers than the sons of democracy". This is quite an extreme assertion that would require a book in itself, and extensive, rigorous research and analysis. An objection comes immediately to my mind: what about the Italians in WW2? What about the Iraqi soldiers of Saddam Hussein? Yet he claims so, and states that not only the Germans but also the Soviets were better soldiers than the Anglo-Americans. If Hastings had even a basic knowledge of the work of Dupuy and his associates he would know that their analysis suggests that the Soviets, in term of combat effectiveness expressed as CEV scores, were indeed inferior to the Western Allies. Probably Hastings confuses proficiency with motivation and readiness to sacrifice oneself. I would expect that most Soviet soldiers were more motivated than their Western counterparts - they were literally fighting for the survival of their Motherland, and probably also for revenge. But motivation alone is not enough to make an effective soldier. Saddam Hussein's Fedayins were certainly very motivated in 2003, but that only resulted in throwing their lives away in droves without inflicting much harm on their opponents. They were clearly outgunned but so were the Vietminh and the North Vietnamese, which are regarded as good fighters and inflicted much pain on their enemies.
    Another example of Hastings' iconoclasticism is from Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War, when he addresses the "Myth of Mons" and claims that the Germans inflicted an equal amount of casualties on the English. All the historians I know of agree that the Germans suffered higher casualties, even if there are disagreements on the exact numbers. Hastings doesn't seem to justify his claim, in fact if I remember correctly there is no reference in the paragraph where he makes it. To be fair, I can concede the possibility that the editors didn't want to publish a book clogged with references, but that would mean that it was not intended as a rigorous military history work.

    As a positive note, Hastings is probably good at illustrating the human aspects of war. However, since he relies so much on anecdotes, there are still two risks. Since the amount of testimonials, letters etc is staggering, there is the possibility that the sample chosen, despite the writer's best efforts, is not representative. And of course there is the risk that a writer cherry-picks his material to prove his points.
     
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  5. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Many of the German units in Normandy were so-called "ear, stomach etc" units, men with hearing etc problems. Hitler Jugend and was it 12th pz division were at least in good condition, I think. However, the Germans had already marked for mortars and perhaps artillery the position to shoot if they had to retreat. So they had exact co-ordinates for the previous German position if the German units informed they had to retreat.

    Soviets, on the other hand, often played dead and shot the Germans in the back.This resulted to Germans shooting the " dead " Russian soldiers in the head. The Soviets said " take at least one German " with you. This resulted in bigger German losses than expected. Cannot think the US or British etc do this in the west.

    Just a couple of details I recall reading of.
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2021
  6. RichTO90

    RichTO90 Well-Known Member

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    Don't get me started on Hastings again. He apparently never met an anecdote he wouldn't repeat and never made even a cursory attempt to determine if any of the anecdotes he repeated had any truth in them. His bon mots are also poorly constructed and uninformed. For example, "the sons of dictatorship make better soldiers than the sons of democracy" should actually be "the German Army was able to make better soldiers of the sons of dictatorship than the American Army was able to make from the sons of democracy." There is nothing inherent in dictatorships that make their soldiers better than there is in democracies. The soldiers of the 2d Reich were every bit as good as those of the 3d Reich, and those of the 3d Reich got most of their training and doctrine from the Weimar army, and neither the 2d Reich or Weimar were anything approaching dictatorships.

    Anyway, one thing that says it all is that apparently all and sundry - soldiers and correspondents - forced to keep his company to and during the Falklands War agreed that he was a total prat.
     
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  7. ColHessler

    ColHessler Member

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    I've never read any of his work, and from what I'm seeing here, maybe I shouldn't.
     
  8. Brutal Truth

    Brutal Truth Active Member

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    If I could send a double like to your post I would... :cool:

    To give the devil his due Hastings is a good writer (stylistically and literary-wise) and his books would be good introductory works for readers looking for a general overview of WW2 - if he didn't try to push his iconoclasticism so far. For instance I wouldn't recommend Glantz to the casual reader. I'm surprised I didn't find any criticism of his thesis on dictatorship producing better soldiers than democracy. I wonder if a less known and not so high-rated historian would be able to make such an assertion without being subjected to peer criticism.

    About the US Army I would be surprised if it could have matched the tactical proficiency of the Wehrmacht at his peak, considering the state of the Army as late as 1940. I'm not American, so you can't accuse me of chauvinism, but I'm enormously impressed by the US achievement to produce such a viable land force in a short time and with the challenge of carrying a war across the oceans. I think one should instead discuss the historical tendency of the USA to under-found the Army in time of peace, only to face the necessity to build a huge force almost from scratch when war breaks out. Maybe this is not true for the post-1980 era, but before that time there are several examples of this tendency.
    Cheers!
     
  9. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    In the main, they are good introduction books to WW2. That being said, most of the members here are well past the introduction point to WW2.
     
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  10. Carronade

    Carronade Ace

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    Can anyone confirm whether this is true? I've read a couple of times that Rommel supposedly said he'd never seen troops so ignorant in their first battle as the Americans, or who had learned so much by their second.
     
  11. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Probably because there are other authors that subscribe to the same "The Allies won the war, but the Germans had the better army." school of thought - Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld, and the British John Keegan & John Ellis, and American Harry Yeide - just to name a few.

    Also, I would not say "dictatorships" - the Italian dictatorship did not produce a better soldiers, the Japanese dictatorship did not produce better soldiers, the Spanish dictatorship did not produce better soldiers, the Soviet dictatorship did not produce better soldiers...
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2021
  12. Brutal Truth

    Brutal Truth Active Member

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    I don't recall that exact phrase. In Overlord Hastings quotes Rommel stating that if he had commanded the Allied armies in Normandy he would have won quickly. So apparently he didn't have a high esteem of the Allied generals. In War without Hate instead he seemed lavish in his praise of the Americans. He supposedly believed that if the Germans had occupied all Africa and the Americans had succeeded to get a beachhead, the former would have lost the whole continent. BUT... the book was a posthumous collection of Rommel memoirs. I don't know if that statement was genuine or just an attempt by the authors to mollify the victors and convince the readers that Rommel was chivalrous towards his enemies.
     
  13. Brutal Truth

    Brutal Truth Active Member

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    But that is what Hastings says in Armageddon. Not just that German soldiers, for whatever reason, were better, but that the soldiers of dictatorships are better fighters, including the Soviets, because they produce more ruthless killers, which evidently he equates with "better soldiers".
     
  14. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Unfortunately, that is not what Hasting's says.

    Hasting's says that German & Russian general officers were better due to exceptional professional skills coupled with absolute ruthlessness - Which I take to mean that they were more willing to sacrifice the lives of their soldiers to achieve a given objective.

    He continues with, Western Allied generals were recruited from societies where military achievement was a doubtful boon, if not embarrassment. Closing with the Western Allies paid a high price for the privilege of the profoundly anti-militaristic ethos of their nations.

    He does have a certain point here. As I don't think the US has had a "ruthless" general since Ulysses S. Grant. For the British, such "ruthlessness" was an anthema after WW1.
     
  15. Brutal Truth

    Brutal Truth Active Member

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    As I said I only read the introduction, and browsed quickly the rest of the book at the library. It was many years ago, but I remember distinctly about "the sons of democracy" being inferior fighters to those of dictatorships, because the latter produce more ruthless combatants, like the Germans and the Soviets. He even added that it was a good thing because it means that democracies teach the value of human life to their men (not the exact words but close enough). If I have misremembered I owe an apology to the ppl here and to Max Hastings. But I would also start worrying about my memory... Is it possible that it has been changed in later editions?
     
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  16. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    The only "sons of democracy" that I remember is from Ambrose's "Citizen Soldiers", when Ambrose is going on how Hitler thought that the spoiled sons of democracy could not stand up to his solid sons of dictatorship.
     
  17. RichTO90

    RichTO90 Well-Known Member

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    More of Hasting's nonsense. The professional skills of general officers varied widely and was not a factor of nationality that I have ever seen.

    The Germans had an excellent system for training NCOs and junior officers, which was good given the rate at which they perished or were invalided out. Their well-tried general staff system also served them well, but of course its traditions and excellence long antedated the Nazi regime. That coupled with an excellent and simple doctrine focused on maneuver and achieving direct-fire superiority, as well as a simple and effective propaganda motivation, meant that tactically they were extremely skilled. Extreme skill at the tactical level was a huge benefit for German generalship at the operational - divisional and corps - level. German generals often made a hash of planning, but were saved by the quality of their rank and file.

    The early Soviet losses in BARBAROSSA eviscerated an officer corps already damaged by the purges. It required a solid year plus of OJT following the Stalingrad Campaign, before they were capable of sustained operations that did not die immediately - like MARS - or end over-extended and subject to devastating German ripostes - like Third Kharkov.

    Most of his tosh is found in the the chapter titled "The Frontiers of Germany". There he belittles the Western Allies "citizen soldiers"...which begs the question what he thinks most of the German and Soviet soldiers were before they mobilized? His statement actually was "The Germans and Russians [sic] in the Second World War showed themselves better warriors, but worse human beings." How he can support such a statement is beyond me. I suspect full well he knows Trevor's analysis showed the Russian calculated CEV was much lower on average than the British or American average. Note however, Hastings was careful not to quote or reference Trevor in Armageddon, I suspect because he caught considerable flak for ignorantly doing so in earlier works.

    Really? Lucian Truscott once told Michael Davison "the time to cry over your dead and wounded is after the battle is won." Robert Frederick was probably as ruthless as any general ever fielded by the U.S. or any other nation in modern history. Bill Darby was similar. The "soldier's soldier", Omar Bradley? As ruthless as they come. John Wood, Jim Gavin, et cetera, and so on.
     
  18. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Member

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    Not sure if Hastings wasn't onto something.

    1. During the war the British were very concerned about the motivational power and morale effect of Nazi indoctrination. There was a very big effort to persuade British troops to hate the Hun. It was part of the content of battle schools. Montgomery stressed morale as key to success and spent a lot of time talking to soldiers with the aim of lighting the fire of battle in their eyes.

    2. The Germans, Japanese and Soviet troops poseesed a determination to continue fighting beyiond the point at which British or US troops might have given up. Faith in the Furher may have motivated Germans beyond love of King country or flag.

    3. Modern British Doctrine says that there are three comonenents to fighting power - the physical, conceptual and morale. Morale is a whole bundle of stuff about the motivation to fight. Why should n't there be national differences in the will to win?
     
  19. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    When the Soviets made their Major offensive early June 1944 Mannerheim told the troops " if you anymore run away There is no home and no Finland". The troops morale suddenly rose up and the Soviet offensive was stopped. Soldier morale is a massive point.
     
  20. Brutal Truth

    Brutal Truth Active Member

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    Hastings may well be onto something, the problem is that he makes over-sweeping, exaggerated statements without backing them up with rigorous analysis.
    It would indeed seem that certain societies at certain times produce better soldiers, but the issue is very complex. As Rich mentioned, German soldiers were very good in WW1 too. Apparently their morale didn't hold as far as in WW2, but it was only because of National Socialist propaganda and faith in the Fuhrer? I have read anecdotes that show that many Germans were disillusioned about the Nazi propaganda and regime. But of course you can find anecdotes to prove a lot of things when there are tens million individuals involved in an historical event.

    Actually the motivation of Wehrmacht soldiers have been and still is a topic discussed by historians since the end of the war, and probably ideological views and other bias play a role in their opinion. Among the explanation for German resilience there is unit cohesion, Nazi ideology and propaganda, enforced discipline, revanchism for Versailles and the Unconditional Surrender policy of the allies. I remember reading an old article from Liddell Hart, when I was researching material at the LHCMA, King College for a thesis, where he mentioned the idea that affluent societies like they British and American produce less hardened warriors. That seems to make sense, wealth and affluence may induce softness - and I doubt Germans today would fight as well as their WW2 ancestors. But Italy was less affluent than Germany in WW2, and yet failed (on average) to produce proficient and motivated soldiers. Many Italian soldiers grew up under fascism and were subjected to fascist propaganda even longer that Germans, so why did Mussolini dictatorship failed to create hard and motivated fighters? Indeed I think that Italians fought better and harder in WW1, when they weren't "the sons of dictatorship". Japanese soldiers were very good, but did they perform worse in the Russo-Japanese war than under the militaristic dictatorship of Tojo? The British were disillusioned by the enormous losses and apparent callousness of their generals in WW1, and that may have played a significant role in their WW2 performance. Americans in Europe were not fighting for the existence of their nation, and they didn't even have a revenge motivation as against the Japanese, so it make sense that they may not have been ready to fight to the end as their opponents. But who can say how they would have behaved if America had been invaded and threatened of destruction like the Soviet Union, or faced an unconditional surrender like Germany? I suspect they would have fought much harder. Martin van Creveld in Fighting Power states that the Wehrmacht was a better fighting machine than the US Army, but he didn't find evidence that German society produces inherently better soldiers. I quote from his book: "What comparative studies exist, in other words, do not allow the conclusion that Germans make better soldiers than Americans and may not allow any sort of conclusion at all".

    As I said, it's a very complex issue, and I don't think we can give conclusive answers here.
     
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